California County Will Allow Outdoor Social Gatherings of 12 People—and Outdoor Protests of 100 People

The phased reopenings happening around the country are becoming increasingly arbitrary.


The country's local lockdown orders are slowly easing up, but in an often arbitrary manner.

Take Contra Costa County, California. On June 2, the Bay Area county's Health Services department issued an updated shelter-in-place order that limited outdoor social gatherings to 12 people from the same "social bubble" but rescinded a mass gathering ban to allow for political protests of up to 100 people. This version of the order maintained a prohibition on outdoor religious gatherings.

"I know there's a lot of frustration out there, but it's important to keep in mind that interventions like social distancing have saved lives," said Chris Farnitano, the county's health officer, in a press release.

A subsequent order issued Friday allows for outdoor religious services and cultural ceremonies of up to 100 people. As with protests, these services and ceremonies are expected to maintain physical distancing between participants. Unlike protests, the organizers of worship services and cultural ceremonies have to keep a list of attendees for up to 14 days.

Yet Friday's order still restricts social gatherings to 12-person social bubbles. These bubbles are defined as a stable group of 12 people that are part of either a Household Support Unit, a Childcare Unit, or a Children's Extracurricular Activity Unit. All three types of units have separate definitions laid out in the health order's appendix.

These 12-person social bubbles are not required to abide by social distancing requirements, but bubble members over the age of 12 are still encouraged to maintain six feet of physical distance from each other and to wear face coverings.

Outdoor dining is now also permitted in Friday's order, although that too comes with a number of social distancing guidelines.

All this falls within state guidelines. On May 25, California allowed counties to permit in-person protests, funerals, and religious services (inside and out) of up to 100 people. It's still up to county health departments to implement these guidelines. Contra Costa County has lifted its restriction on protests and religious services, but it still maintains a prohibition on funeral services of more than 10 people.

The county's reopening schedule, and the voluminous details that accompany it, are rather arbitrary and not particularly realistic. It doesn't make much sense from a public health perspective to ban outdoor gatherings of a 13-person "social bubble" while allowing a crowd of 100 strangers. It's true the latter has to comply with social distancing requirements, but anyone who's been to a protest knows that that's not always going to happen.

One could argue that political protests and religious services raise particular First Amendment concerns and therefore can't be held to the same strict guidelines as other activities. But if that's the case, the county might as well just ditch all its restrictions, given that people are going to go to protests of a bunch of strangers and then go interact with their social bubble.

I think county officials are also overestimating their ability to set the parameters of people's social interaction. It's doubtful many in Contra Costa are going to read through a 17-page public health order and its six separate appendices to figure what exactly is allowed at their barbeque.

At least the arbitrariness of the county's reopening schedule doesn't appear to be politicized in the way a lot of public health discourse has recently. Both New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy have said explicitly that violating mass gathering bans is OK if the gatherings are to protest police violence and racism. That's a position apparently held by a number of public health officials too.

Yet the more distinctions and caveats public health officials and politicians add to their stay-at-home orders, the less credibility they have, and the less they'll likely be listened to by a public that is ready to get back to some sort of pre-pandemic normality.

NEXT: James Bennet's Resignation Proves the Woke Scolds Are Taking Over The New York Times

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  1. Why don’t libertarians trust the expert opinions of scientists and doctors?

    1. The scientists and doctors being quoted the most aren’t actually in that profession, but instead politicians in government careers.

      1. A doctor of dramaturgy is still a doctor!

        1. And meanwhile, Doctors of Divinity are being ignored in their assertions that your immortal soul is more important than your corporeal existence.

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        3. Someone who graduates at the bottom of their class in med school still a doctor

    2. If their opinion is that the virus somehow knows the purpose for a particular gathering and will take that into account when deciding whether or not to spread that any particular event, that opinion should not be trusted regardless of the credentials belonging to the person expressing it.

      A better question is that since there’s not much dispute of the fact that the WHO misled the world regarding this virus for the first months when accurate knowledge would have made the biggest difference (whether that came from a place of incompetence, or from deliberate political calculation remains unclear), why do progressive statists object so aggressively to the idea of ceasing U.S. support for that particular political organization?

      1. Because Trump. Literally no other reason. If the WHO came out today and announced support for all of T’s CV initiatives and plans, they would turn about and denounce the WHO as racist.

        It is that simple.

    3. Scientists like the ones in WWII who thought testing the atomic bomb would cause an uncontrollable chain reaction in the atmosphere?

      1. That idea was Teller’s. He had Konopinski, an expert on weak reactions, work on it. They quickly determined that it was extremely unlikely. During Trinity, as a way to relive tension, Enrico Fermi offered up the bet, as a joke.

    4. I can’t tell if you’re being serious or snarky, but if you are being serious, you are engaging in a well-known logical fallacy: the argument from authority. Just because someone is in a position of authority doesn’t mean they’re right.

      Even so, all you have to be is relatively intelligent to see that banning church but allowing protests is, as Spock would say, illogical. Telling me that the tens of thousands of protestors are not endangering us but 50 people in a church will destroy the population and the health care system is stupid on its face.

      The fact that anyone anywhere has to say that the virus won’t discriminate based on the social issue at hand tells you exactly how completely fucked we all are. There’s a great quote from Lincoln about preferring China where you can take despotism whole, without “the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

      1. Either the chinavirus was such an existential threat as to override our rights under the Constitution…or it wasn’t.
        Allowing protests over “racism”, while, at the same time claiming “white protesters resisting stay-home orders” were not allowed, took from these “health experts”, any credibility they had.

    5. The whole reason democracies and capitalism work is because “experts” and the rules they use have always given humanity worse results than the people give themselves. You should know better than most how government “experts” created a couple of world wars.
      Here’s a good book for you;

  2. “I know there’s a lot of frustration out there, but it’s important to keep in mind that interventions like social distancing have saved lives,” said Chris Farnitano, the county’s health officer

    “I know there’s a lot of frustration out there, but it’s important to keep in mind that interventions like banning private car ownership have saved lives.”

    “I know there’s a lot of frustration out there, but it’s important to keep in mind that interventions like prohibiting criticism of health officers have saved lives.”

  3. Unlike protests, the organizers of worship services and cultural ceremonies have to keep a list of attendees for up to 14 days.

    “Hmm. That’s weird. Everyone at that gathering is named Puddin’ Tame!”

    1. 99 people named Joe Biden, one named Donald Trump.
      Works for me.

    2. Mikhail Mysh
      1313 Harbor Blvd
      Anaheim CA 92802
      +1 714 781 4636

    3. Expect a constitutional challenge to that one.

  4. Given the parallel construction in the 1st amendment, wouldn’t requiring religious services to maintain records, but not protests, be presumptively not a neutral, generally applicable restriction on religious free exercise?

    1. Yes but they don’t care so
      I say all religious services are now a protest

      1. “Why, it’s right there in our name: ‘Protestant’!”

        1. Meet up with 100 or so Protestants in Church or a dozen or so Catholic girls outside of Church… your choice.

          1. I’ll take Catholic Girls, as described by Frank Zappa.

            1. Whoa, I didn’t know!

              Frank Zappa Lyrics
              “Catholic Girls”

              [Act I]

              [SCENE THREE]
              [CATHOLIC GIRLS]

              A festive CYO party with crepe paper streamers, contestants
              for the broom dance, the , baked goods, & FATHER RILEY
              making sure the lights don’t go down too low…

              Catholic Girls
              With a tiny little mustache
              Catholic Girls
              Do you know how they go?
              Catholic Girls
              In the Rectory Basement
              Father Riley’s a fairy
              But it don’t bother Mary
              Catholic Girls
              At the CYO
              Catholic Girls
              Do you know how they go?
              Catholic Girls
              There can be no replacement
              How do they go, after the show?

              All the way
              That’s the way they go
              Every day
              And none of their mamas ever seem to know
              For all the class they show
              There’s nothing like a Catholic Girl
              At the CYO When they learn to blow…

              [FATHER RILEY:] They’re learning to blow
              All the Catholic Boys!

              Warren Cuccurullo…

              [FATHER RILEY:] Catholic Boys!

              Kinda young, kinda WOW!

              [FATHER RILEY:]
              Catholic Boys!

              Vinnie Colaiuta…

              Where are they now?
              Did they all take The Vow?

              [FATHER RILEY:] Catholic Girls!

              Carmenita Scarfone!

              [FATHER RILEY:] Catholic Girls!

              [OFFICER BUTZIS:]
              Hey! She gave me VD!

              [FATHER RILEY:]
              Catholic Girls!

              Toni Carbone!

              With a tongue like a cow
              She could make you go WOW!

              VD vowdy vootie
              Right away
              That’s the way they go
              Every day
              Whenever their mamas take them to a show
              Pass the popcorn please
              There’s nothing like a Catholic Girl
              With her hand in the box
              When she’s on her knees

              She was on her knees,
              My little Catholic Girl

              In a little white dress
              Catholic Girls
              They never confess
              Catholic Girls
              I got one for a cousin
              I love how they go
              So send me a dozen
              Catholic Girls
              Catholic Girls
              OOOOOOH! [etc.]

              [CENTRAL SCRUTINIZER:]
              This is the CENTRAL SCRUTINIZER…
              Joe had a girl friend named Mary.
              She used to go to the church club every week.
              They’d meet each other there
              Hold hands
              And think
              Pure Thoughts
              But one night, at the
              Social Club meeting Mary didn’t show up…
              She was sucking cock backstage at The Armory
              In order to get a pass To see some big rock group for free…

  5. And in a couple of weeks, when coronavirus cases spike there, the blame will be put on the church goers.

    1. “Behold His Mighty Hand!”

    2. I too expect this. No finger pointing at protests or riots will happen at all.

      1. Nobody wants to be accused of being racist. That’s it. It’s really that simple. It’s the worst thing that you can be accused of, so even doctors contort themselves into logical pretzels trying to say protests are fine because racism is just as dangerous as Coronavirus.

  6. What if our protest meeting is for the purpose of protesting the obvious fact that these phased reopenings happening around the country are becoming increasingly arbitrary? Is that particular type of protest meeting going to be allowed?

    Inquiring minds want to KNOW, dammit! WHERE is the list of things that we are allowed to protest? Without having to give our names for the list of names, I mean?

    Signed, Mickey Mouse!

    1. Is that particular type of protest meeting going to be allowed?

      Perhaps if it’s guided by Science and The Data?

      1. And the Twitter?

      2. Are the BLM protests guided by science and data?

  7. I for one can’t wait to see the headlines about how protesters are being completely robbed of their first amendment rights when the police try to break up a (totes safe) protest of 103 people. Meanwhile, the local NRA meeting at the church down the road needs to have each and every one of the 14 attendees in chains for civil disobedience and generally being clingers.

    1. NRA holds meetings in churches? Huh?

      1. Possibly an Alvian church.

      2. They do. I was able to search for a local gun club near me on the NRA website that holds their meetings at a church in about 30 seconds.

  8. So if I bring a bible to a protest will they have to break it up?

    1. Yup. Unless you smash a tail light or hit a local shop owner over the head with it.

  9. It’s not a concert, it’s a protest!

    1. Exactly. Just throw a big party, serve drinks, set up some lawngames, and call it a protest. Invite the whole neighborhood.

      1. You joke, but a local news anchor described Sunday’s protest in Seattle as having a ‘block party atmosphere complete with food and music’ right up until the alleged tear gas ENB referred to in the roundup happened.

  10. How can any of this now stand up to legal challenges?

    1. We’re so far beyond the concept of “legal” (i.e. consistent with laws passed by elected legislatures) that your question is simply irrelevant.

    2. Easy. They just keep changing the rules so fast that any particular legal challenge is dismissed as untimely.

      1. or moot.

  11. California; nobody cares anymore.
    Next article.

  12. “One could argue that political protests and religious services raise particular First Amendment concerns”

    Except the 1st amendment guarantees freedom of assembly in general and not just religious ones or political ones.

    This so-called argument put forth by CHRISTIAN BRITSCHGI is false to begin with.

  13. fraudulent. call them fraudulent and ignore them.

    1. They had a stock car race in Noth Carolina this weekend with a crowd of 2,000. They called it a protest. No way in hell would any fine for that stand up in court

      1. would hope the good people of North Carolina Law Enforcement would understand stock car racing is a cultural necessity.

        1. As a matter of fact…

          Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson reportedly planned to go against the governor’s wishes, explaining people had the right to assemble for protest purposes.

          “They were going to have signs,” Johnson explained to the Winston Salem Journal. “From my understanding, they were going to have the pace car go around asking for unity of our nation for what is going on. You know, the fires, the tax on law enforcement, burning of buildings and stuff. And, by doing that, to me, that gives them the First Amendment right to protest peacefully.”

          1. love it.

          2. Peacefully, so no crashes allowed?

            1. Yes. Any driver assaulting the completely innocent speedway wall will be arrested for rioting.

          3. Lying between overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic Orange County and Durham County to the east, equally Democratic Guilford County to the west, and heavily conservative and Republican Randolph County to the southwest, Alamance leans Republican, though not as overwhelmingly as many other suburban counties in the Piedmont Triad. The last Democratic nominee for president to carry Alamance County was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

            Authoritarian Team Blue motherfuckers.

  14. They are not increasingly arbitrary. They are arbitrary. This is the government using public health laws to restrict speech and assembly it does not like. It is an outrageous violation of people’s rights. Reason barely notices a week into it.

    1. Reason barely notices a week into it.

      4-6+ weeks after their commentariate and/or audience told them it was all a sham to step on peoples’ rights.

    2. But come on. We all know that there is no one who will actually enforce these laws. It is just like the masks. These regulations are just a way of the state saying “We give you permission to do what you are already doing”. It’s like that Simpson’s episode where Bart is trying to train Santa’s Little Helper:

      “Sit…Sit….Standup…uh, walk over there….sniff that other dog’s butt!”

      1. The eeriest part of it has been the creeping/lingering fascism. The soft fascism where nobody wears a mask except when they walk into a place of business that politely asks them to lest they give COVID to fellow customers (some of whom were wearing masks well before COVID) or a cashier who’s been entombed in a 4×4 lexan box. The remaining propaganda of commercials on TV still shoveling the “We’re all in this together.” bullshit.

        Apparently, Dominos was molesting pizzas for years until the CDC convinced them contactless delivery was a good idea.

      2. Is it just me or is the worst thing of all is that “Children’s Extracurricular Activity Unit” is a thing?

  15. Well shit. It’s too bad this turn of events was utterly unforeseeable 4 months ago when libertarians were rah rahing for nationwide lockdowns. Oh well. At leaset it only affects the people we already hate, despise, marginalize, censor, silence, beat, and rob.

  16. “I know there’s a lot of frustration out there, but it’s important to keep in mind that interventions like social distancing have saved lives,” said Chris Farnitano, the county’s health officer, in a press release.

    Really? What is your data to back up this claim?

    1. the data came from another persons kid doing a school project just like teh plastic straw ban was based on a child’s school project. Kids don’t need to vote everyone in charge is going off what kids say already

  17. LOL “Becoming”

    Time to resurrect and update Remy’s masterwork PWD

    1. People Will Die? I’ve been sharing that like mad for months. It’s a few years old and yet PERFECT for our current situation.

  18. Yet the more distinctions and caveats public health officials and politicians add to their stay-at-home orders, the less credibility they have,

    They burned the last shred of their credibility weeks ago. The coronavirus lockdown now appears to be nothing more than a political calculus. I can only speculate on what that political calculus was, but it had nothing to do with actual science, and everything to do with politics.

  19. While they “allow” protests of up to 100, they’ll openly praise protestors for turning out in groups of 2000…

    At some point the use of language exceeds even the imagination of George Orwell.

  20. They can’t enforce it anyway so why bother issuing the rules?

  21. Unlike protests, the organizers of worship services and cultural ceremonies have to keep a list of attendees for up to 14 days.

    And this is not illegal? Hello….Ninth Circuit?

  22. Beginning in September, there are going to be numerous 100,000+ gatherings throughout the South. College football can’t be stopped.

  23. The human race has descended into idiotic. I’m starting to route for the virus.

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